Should Students and Teachers Connect Over Social Media?

teacherSocial media has made it possible to connect with anyone, anywhere, which includes teachers and students. There are both pros and cons to this type of interaction. Teens rely heavily on social media for communication, so many teachers see this as an opportunity to engage and motivate students. However, social media can potentially provide teachers and students direct, unsupervised contact beyond the classroom, which poses risks and could lead to misconduct. There is a lot of debate over what’s appropriate, so we will try to cover the important things to know in this blog.

Potential Benefits of Student/Teacher Social Media Interaction

  • Social media interaction provides teachers and students an easy and engaging way to communicate.
  • A teen who has a question about a homework assignment may be able to get an answer right away by messaging his teacher.
  • A teacher can communicate with the class quickly if they realize they need to correct a mistake, change the homework assignment, remind students of an exam, or provide last minute instructions. This can be especially useful if the teacher unexpectedly needs to be absent.
  • Social media interaction provides a real world example for teens to learn about respectful communication, setting the stage for them to communicate properly with the adult world.
  • Students and teachers can participate in discussions that add value to the lesson and encourages the sharing of ideas. Learning can continue outside of the classroom. When used correctly, different social platforms can get students to practice “lower-level thinking” at home and prep them for “higher-level thinking” in the classroom.
  • Online communication can also help shy or quiet students to participate in class discussions in a way that feels more comfortable to them.
  • Social media encourages virtual study groups. Research has shown that study groups are one of the strongest determinants of a student’s success in college.


Potential Dangers of Student/Teacher Social Media Interaction

  • Chatting on Facebook, sharing photos on Snapchat, or tweeting about live events can change the teacher/student relationship.
  • Access to personal content gives both the student and the teacher insight into one another’s personal lives.
  • Social media interaction can inadvertently cross professional boundaries. Private conversations about personal problems or family activities may ensue. According to a Canadian program, students who were issued cell phones by their school to improve communication with teachers did better academically, but they also discussed personal matters with their instructors more often. That can develop into a relationship, emotions get involved, and the situation can evolve into something inappropriate.
  • Unfortunately, a small minority of teachers have used social media as a way to strike up sexually explicit conversations with students. For example, a Pennsylvania math instructor pleaded guilty to texting a 16-year-old student and asking for naked photos, promising extra credit.


Information for students using social media with teachers

Despite being tech-savvy, teens often don’t realize that once they connect with a teacher on social media, the teacher can see everything the teen posts on the site, such as their latest weekend escapades, the photo of them drinking alcohol, the video they took at the last unsupervised party, the nasty comment they made about school, or even their dark confessions. These personal details place teachers in an awkward position. For example, a teacher might find it difficult to treat a student fairly after reading profane comments or viewing compromising photos. Teachers also have a legal obligation to report suspected abuse or danger. Students should be aware of what information they are sharing and with whom.

Tips for teachers using social media with students

  • Ensure you have strict privacy settings on all of your social media accounts and review those settings frequently, as the networks change and update their settings.
  • Establish separate personal and professional social media accounts. Only connect with students on your professional accounts, which places an appropriate boundary between your school and personal life. For example, on Facebook, instead of setting up a class page on a regular Facebook account that lets users see other people’s personal pages, teachers can create a page that students and parents subscribe to by “liking” it. In this case, everyone is able to view the teacher’s posts, and add their own to the page, without revealing private information.
  • Don’t say anything on your social media profile that you wouldn’t say in class.
  • Avoid being too friendly, personal, or chatty with students over texts or social media. It’s great to be available to students, but too much friendliness will confuse students and may make them misunderstand your intentions.
  • Don’t share personal information. Ever.
  • Maintain the same professional relationship with students online that you maintain at school. Just as you would within the school, if you become aware of students who need help, direct them to parents or professionals (like school counselors), who are best equipped to offer it. Do not try to offer a student advice over text or social media.
  • Consider using tools that allow you to communicate and collaborate with students without compromising safety. For example, there are middleman texting services designed for classrooms available for free on the Internet, such as Remind 101. This program allows teachers to text students and parents on their subscriber list while blocking phone numbers. Some schools offer software that allows students to contribute to discussions online, but the information remains private from the larger world and can be reviewed by the school, if there’s ever a question of inappropriateness.


Tips for parents of students using social media with teachers

  • Learn school policy. Almost every school has some sort of social media policy. Find out what your school prohibits and explain the policy to your teen. Most experts believe the best solution is for teachers and students to connect only on software designed for classrooms that are reviewed by administrators.
  • Talk to your teen about risks. Inform your teen that they should never be receiving private messages or texts from their teachers, nor should they be invited to connect over SnapChat or become “friends” on a teacher’s personal account. Explain how private conversations could lead to inappropriate sharing of personal information, including sexual content.
  • Establish general rules for electronics. You should already have in place general rules about the use of electronics and social media for your teen. Computers should be located in a public room of your home. You should limit the amount of time your teen is allowed to be online. Your teen’s cell phone should have a “curfew” – a time before bed that it is placed in a public area for charging. You should also set up the expectation that you will monitor your teen’s online activity.
  • Discuss how to get help. If your teen is ever in a situation with a teacher that crosses the line, you should let them know how to get help. They may be too afraid or embarrassed to talk to anyone, but you should reassure them that it’s important to talk to you about social media problems and that they will not be in trouble.
  • Check logs. Inform your teen that you will be monitoring his cell phone records and computer history. It’s not “spying” if you let them know in advance. You should have all of your teen’s passwords to social media accounts, cell phones, and other media. Help your teen establish appropriate privacy controls on their accounts. Finally, don’t just assume your teen is only on Facebook – you can type in your child’s phone number to find out if they are on Twitter, SnapChat, or Instagram.

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